Metal straws, reusable water bottles, innovative recyclable packaging- we’ve come up with lots of ways to help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean as a result of man-made products. But one source of pollution that you may not immediately think of actually lies in your closet. Chances are, your wardrobe isn’t 100% made of cotton. You likely have a lot of clothes made out of synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon; in fact, 60% of material used worldwide actually is made out of some sort of synthetic blend. If you’re a fan of cute athleisure (and hello, who isn’t?) or a good fleece pullover, you might not be as eco-friendly as you think you are. These materials in these clothes contain microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic that give the fabric its shape and breathability and unfortunately, find their way into our oceans.
A seemingly harmless chore like doing a load of laundry is actually where the majority of microplastic pollution takes place. Because of the nature of their size (micro refers to anything 5 millimeters or less), the particles can pass through filters at water treatment plants undetected and make their way into the ocean. One laundry load alone can release around 700,000 fibers that will end up polluting our waters. If that’s just a single wash, think about how many fibers are being released by your monthly washes over the course of a year! Furthermore, plastic isn’t biodegradable and since the microplastics are so small, you can’t easily clean them off of ocean shores like you would with plastic bags or bottles. Essentially, once the microplastics find their way into the ocean, there’s not much we can do to get them out.
While it’s true that these fibers aren’t harming marine life as drastically as plastic rings or trash bags, the accumulation of the microplastics could have detrimental effects. Fish are ingesting alarmingly high amounts of microplastics and the fibers are infiltrating the entire aquatic food chain. We don’t have extensive research on the long term effects of fiber ingestion, but the little we know suggests it can’t positive. What’s even more concerning is the sheer amount that’s actually ending up in our oceans and polluting marine life- an estimated 30% of marine plastic pollution is due to microplastics!
So how can you begin making smarter fashion choices to help alleviate the amount of plastic pollution? For starters, you can aim to buy more clothing made out of cotton and natural fibers. Better yet, you can buy less clothing altogether. By reducing the amount of fast fashion you purchase, you’ll not only cut down on the amount of microplastics that end up in the ocean, but you’ll also reduce textile waste and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions that are used to produce mass-manufactured clothing!). If you’re looking for a more tangible solution, check out the Guppyfriend, a washing bag with a specialized filter that’s designed to catch microplastics and significantly reduce the amount of fibers that end up in the ocean. Simply throw your synthetics in the bag and toss it into the laundry worry free!
While we can’t completely stop the use of synthetic fabrics and microplastic pollution altogether, it’s important that everyday consumers are aware of the impact that their clothing purchases make. By choosing to make more conscious and eco-friendly fashion choices, we can be a little kinder to the Earth (and our closet!)